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Gaming less is no solution to gaming addiction, says Dutch study

An increasing number of gamers in the Netherlands are seeking help from addiction care services for their gaming-related problems. However, there are no guidelines for registering clients in this category, which makes it difficult to make an estimate of the exact number of people involved. Nonetheless, addiction services do provide professional help, consisting of existing treatment programmes based on cognitive behavioural therapy and motivational discussions. There have been very few studies of problematic gaming behaviour. As part of her PhD thesis, Maria Haagsma of the Institute for Innovation and Governance Studies at the University of Twente has been examining which factors contribute towards excessive gaming behaviour. She defended her thesis on 23 November.

In spite of the benefits of video games, their increasing popularity has also led to concerns about the negative effects they may be having on some gamers. Much of the research into this aspect is directed at such outcomes as aggressive behaviour, desensitization to violence, and a decrease in prosocial behaviour. At the same time, games are associated with undesirable physical health aspects such as lack of exercise and obesity. There is also increasing evidence that some gamers are exhibiting game-related habits that are undermining their ability to function normally. The focus of Haagsma’s study is on excessive gaming behaviour and the negative effects this has on a person’s life. The factors that contribute to problematic gaming behaviour are gaming in order to regulate one’s mood, having a preference for online contact, and self-discipline.

Gaming similar to gambling
“Excessive gaming can lead to serious problems in the life of a gamer, affecting his work or performance at school, for example, or his social relationships and other leisure activities. It is generally accepted by most researchers that some gamers run the risk of developing problematic patterns of behaviour related to gaming. It is assumed that this type of behaviour is similar to addictive behaviour like pathological gambling.”

Problematic gaming behaviour from a socio-cognitive perspective
Previous research has identified factors related to or which could presage problematic gaming behaviour. However, there has been very little research into problematic gaming behaviour from the perspective of behavioural theories. Haagsma has applied various theories in order to gain a greater insight into the underlying mechanisms of problematic gaming behaviour. From a socio-cognitive theory, for example, she looked at the role of outcome expectancies that people have in relation to gaming, the degree to which gaming has become a habit, and the level of self-discipline that people have over gaming.

Reducing time spent gaming not a solution
“The findings in my thesis suggest that the amount of time spent gaming is perhaps not an independent predictor of problematic gaming behaviour, unlike other factors such as self-discipline and mood regulation. This indicates that simply reducing the amount of time spent gaming is probably not an effective solution in preventing or treating problematic gaming behaviour,” says Maria Haagsma.

More information
Maria Haagsma is a PhD student at the University of Twente. She carried out her doctoral research at the Institute for Innovation and Governance Studies into problematic gaming behaviour. She is attempting to gain an insight into determinants of problematic gaming behaviour from the perspective of various theories. This involves looking at the role of motives in gaming, for example, as well as social influences and self-discipline. She defended her thesis on 23 November. The thesis, entitled ‘Understanding problematic game behaviour’, is available on request.